Women are like lionesses at the gate of the home. . . . She guards that gate, and things matter to that family if they matter to her. . . . Sisters, you are each like the lioness at the gate. This means that there has to be some prioritizing. I was taught years ago that when our priorities are out of order, we lose power. If we need power and influence to carry out our mission, then our priorities have to be straight.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Different Colored Eggs

Today I was playing baseball in the backyard with the kids.  Shaelyn was pitching, I was hitting, Rachelle was twirling, and Christian was eating all the clover flowers he could find.  (There's a lot to find.)  We had just bought a new ball and bat today for me and Shaelyn to play with.  They both are made from very lightweight foam and the ball doesn't really travel - in fact it's hard to even pitch it right.

So leave it to me to hit it over the fence into our backyard-neighbors' yard.

Yes, that's right.  The neighbor whom I've talked to only 3 times in the 6 years that we have lived here.  The neighbor who comes from another country and speaks with a heavy accent.  The neighbor who keeps her yard in disarray, who's killed all her grass, who never edges her part of the sidewalk so weeds grow all over it.  The neighbor who has recently procured some chickens.

That neighbor.

The neighbor whose laundry I look at through my dirty windows and proclaim it to be unclean, so to speak.

The few times I have spoken to her, she has been very nice.  And I've learned a few things about her.  She comes from Jordan.  She is an avid gardener (despite the lack of grass).  She has 4 children and 3 grandchildren.

Yet in spite of those friendly interludes, I hesitated going over to retrieve the ball from her backyard.  I was close to telling Shaelyn to forget it, that the ball was lost forever, when I saw her eyes brimming with tears.

So I gathered my little ducks and we paraded over to the backyard-neighbors' house.  She greeted me with a hug.  Remembered my name.  And my daughter's names.  And that Christian had just turned 1, because her granddaughter and he are only 2 days apart in age.  She proudly trotted us out the backyard to get the ball, showing us all the new things that were growing in her multiple gardens.  She had us meet the chickens, showed us where she had built various pens and fencing and coups.  She told me of how she had called the city, called our HOA, and had made sure she was meeting all the requirements for having chickens in her backyard.

Then she invited me in to her home, and showed me pictures of all her kids and grandkids.  Told me of where they live and work.  Her sons are all successful in science fields, like computer programming and bio engineering.  Her daughter is a stay-at-home-mom.  She told me how beautiful I was, how beautiful my kids are, how much she loves being my backyard neighbor and hearing their little voices, their little laughter, their little shrieks of life while she's working in her garden.

She told me of her job, how she cares for a mentally and physically handicapped boy all day.  She showed me pictures of him.  And talked so lovingly of him I would have thought she was his own mother.

As I went to leave, she bestowed me with numerous gifts.  Fresh eggs from her chickens.  Branches from her rosemary plant.  Handfuls of honeysuckle flowers for the girls to suck on.  She told me to not be a stranger, to come over any time, and hugged me and each one of my children as we left.

When we got home, I made fresh scrambled eggs for the kids.  And I put the 2 we didn't eat in the carton with my other store-bought eggs.  The difference in appearance is striking.  The pristine, perfectly white, all uniform eggs next to the two brown, spotted, uniquely shaped eggs.  And yet, the "different looking" eggs tasted so much better.

Shame washed over me.  Based on outward appearance only, my backyard neighbor is different.  And certainly her choice in how she maintains her yard is an outward appearance for the whole neighborhood to see.  Even though Michael and I aren't the best at keeping our yard looking award-winning, I will admit the condition of our neighbor's yard has caused us some consternation over the years.

And although I don't avoid her because of the state of her yard, if I'm being honest, I do avoid her because of her thick accent and different customs and the thought that we don't have much in common.  It's much easier to be friends with my neighbors who live like I live, who do things the way that I do things, who eat the same foods I eat.

And yet my neighbor is an egg with a rich flavor.  She has a big heart.  She loves her children.  She serves others.  She knows much more about living off the land than I could ever hope to.  She's a hard worker.  And she's very giving.

How much have I, or for that matter our neighborhood, been missing out on by only choosing the eggs that look/sound/act like me?  How much richer could my life have been these last 6 years if I had washed my own windows, gotten over my own fear of the different, and extended friendship sooner?

And I realized, yet again, that I still have a lot to learn about being compassionate.  About seeing strengths and ignoring weaknesses.  About finding similarities and celebrating differences.

About truly loving the way that God loves.